Normally, the unexpected death of adult cattle is a financial burden, and maybe an emotional burden, on the ranchers who owned them.
But there are some cattle death stories, which gained fame dating back to 1967, that aren’t ordinary deaths. KTVZ reported last week that, in Crook County, Oregon, the sheriff’s office is investigating the death of “several” cattle. It looks like an ordinary story. It isn’t.
These particular types of deaths are usually referred to as “cattle mutilation,” and they have a very strange, conspiracy-ridden history. There are certain things in common. The cattle will be missing certain body parts, typically genitals or eyes. There will be cuts described as “surgical” in their unusual neatness. The cattle will not have displayed signs of illness prior to their sudden demise. And there will be no blood.
These cattle mutilation stories first gained fame in 1967, although that initial case actually involved a horse rather than a cow or bull. Stories of cattle mutilation bubbled up from across the American West through the 1970s, and the FBI actually conducted an investigation—which was inconclusive in terms of finding a motive or perpetrator. They did find some stuff in the autopsies which seemed odd: the absence of copper in the liver, for example. The FBI investigation, which you can read here, includes theories ranging from “dropped from a helicopter” to “injected with anti-coagulants.”
The stories gained some fame; every once in a while, there’ll be a big fun feature in a magazine, starting with a 1975 Alexander Cockburn story in Esquire. Conspiracy theories run rampant, and they cover just about all the usual bases: aliens, cryptids like the chupacabra, Satanic cults, government cover-ups.
There’s also, of course, the skeptic’s explanation. Those precise, surgical cuts have been demonstrated in experiments to also be found when a dead cow bloats, tearing the skin neatly. Some insect scavengers like blowflies do tend to go for eyes and genitals; those are soft portals to the inside of the animal.
In any case, this newest case involves three or possibly four head of cattle, which the sheriff’s department said had “certain body parts” removed. Extra patrols to the rural area will be provided. The mutilations followed others scattered throughout eastern Oregon in recent years.
As yet, no arrests have been made—not in 1975, and not now.